Want to get to Cuba before throngs of Americans pile onto its long-forbidden shores? Here’s how.
Get to Cuba ahead of the throngs
Want to get to Cuba before waves of American travelers wade onto its long-forbidden shores? Catey Hill has some tips. Photo: Getty
On Monday, Cuba’s flag began to fly over its new embassy in Washington, D.C., and was hung in the main lobby of the U.S. State Department, indicating that the two countries have resumed full diplomatic relations after 54 years. This is part of Obama’s plan, announced in December, to normalize relations with Cuba.
While this is a significant step in improving relations with Cuba, it doesn’t mean Americans can easily travel to Cuba from the U.S. yet. The travel embargo is still in place, so visiting Cuba for tourist activities is still prohibited, and Congress would need to act to fully lift this embargo. And that isn’t looking likely at the moment: White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday that the administration hadn’t made any headway in getting Congress to move on that. Still, Earnest added that the administration can take steps on its own to move forward on this issue — and some experts think it won’t be long before the travel embargo eases further.
But for now, Americans who want to travel to Cuba legally from the U.S. will have to jump through some hoops. Here’s how to do it:
First, you need to understand what kinds of trips to Cuba are allowed. In January, Obama expanded the list of categories — to 12 — for approved travel to Cuba. These now comprise humanitarian projects; religious activities; educational activities; professional research; and participating in an athletic event or making a public performance, like playing an instrument in a concert. What’s more, if you fall within one of the 12 categories (read the guidelines for each category),you no longer need to submit a written request to the Office of Foreign Assets Control to be permitted to go to Cuba.
This has opened up the field for tour companies offering trips for Americans to Cuba that fall under the new guidelines, like educational trips, particularly so-called people-to-people trips, in which U.S. travelers interact with the Cuban people. Prices for these tours vary widely — a few are under $3,000, others upward of $8,000. Among the tour companies now offering tours through the country: Abercrombie & Kent, which offers a 10-day, 24-person trip for $5,695 a person; Insight Cuba, where a five-day trip to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, starts at $2,995; Explorica,whose nine-day Havana Highlight tour, which costs around $3,300; and Travcoa, where a 10-day trip called Community, Culture and Cuisine is priced at $8,495.
Tanya Rivero and Jerry Seib discuss how the U.S. and Cuba will restore diplomatic relations.
Pretty soon, you’ll be able to cruise there as well. Carnival’s new brand, Fathom, pitched as a social-impact cruise line, plans to sail from Miami to Cuba beginning in May. The cruise will be a seven-night affair starting at $2,990 per person, not including taxes and port fees, and is allowed to travel because it falls under the government’s people-to-people allowance.
While going on a tour or cruise may make traveling to Cuba logistically easier, you can go as an individual — assuming you fall into one of those 12 categories (just be careful not to lounge on the beach for too long or the U.S. government may get on your case).
And visiting Cuba as a lone traveler has never been easier: This month, JetBlue
began direct charter flights from New York to Havana (the first major U.S. carrier to do so),in February CheapAir.com began allowing customers to book flights from the U.S. to Cuba on its site, and there are plenty of charter flights available from carriers (you can expect to pay a hefty price for them: though it’s just 90 miles from the U.S., a round-trip ticket from Miami to Cuba costs about $500).
Plus, there are hundreds of rooms and homes in Cuba now available to rent on Airbnb.com (it began listing rooms in Cuba in April) or you can book a hotel there (though, beware, experts say that it can be hard to find a good hotel as there’s been a surge in interest in Cuban travel recently). You may want to work with a travel agent who specializes in Cuba to make sure you meet all the guidelines for U.S. travelers.
Other things to know: You’ll need a valid passport (make sure it’s good for six months beyond your date of travel),a visitor’s visa and proof of health insurance to enter the country. You should also bring cash and prepay when you can, as many establishments don’t accept American credit cards.